Two months have flown by. It feels like my feet have barely touched the floor. It still seems like just yesterday I was packing my bag to leave and yet here I am packing it up again, ready to leave for a new destination in Mexico. Time flies.
Danny, my housemate, managed to get his football team through to the finals of the cup they play in. He wanted me and Fabi, his girlfriend, along for the moral support. Of course, I said yes, it was going to be a blast. I managed to get enough sleep the night before, for the first time in a while, and we were up at seven to get going.
The team he plays for is miles out of the centre of the city. In the ghetto, one may say. It took us about an hour to get there in a taxi. The court was made of dusty astroturf and the stands of solid concrete. The sun was just over the horizon as we got there. You could see the puffs of dust kicking up behind the feet and rolling ball as the players moved around.
Fabi got herself a tamale torta from the lady at the entrance. Tamale, as you probably know, is a delicious filled cornbread, cooked inside a corn husk. Putting a bread product between a huge bread roll is a carb meal worthy of UK cuisine. Forget high-priced taco stands, bring bread-filled sandwiches to the UK. You’ll make a killing. The most ideal hangover food.
Danny’s team lost despite the fact I used all the language I had learnt at Lucha Libre, much to the amusement of the Mexicans in the stands around me. He wasn’t put out, they have managed the finals a few times against this team and almost always lose. Apparently, where these guys come from there is literally nothing to do but play football, so that’s all they do.
Post match the team cracked a few beers on the stands. I was offered one but I declined. I had to be up early the next day for another trip and, although it was only half nine in the morning, I had shit I wanted to do. I knew one beer would lead to more and that would be my day. Oh, how futile this decision ended up being.
Danny asked if we would like to pop to his friends’ house; they were having a little bit of food and wind down after the match. Obviously, I wasn’t going to say no. The sun was shining, the day was young, and Danny said we would probably only be there an hour, maybe an hour and a half.
Six hours later we were making the third beer and second food run. The friend happened to have a car garage, a small building with a big concrete, outdoor work area. We had filled it with music, a table for food and drink, coolers, and for some reason, a bouncy castle for the kids. Tequila and beers were flowing seemingly limitlessly and spirits were high.
The Mexican love of dance prevailed as I was repeatedly swung onto the floor with another one of the wives. They endured my hammer feet and rigid hips in an effort to teach me salsa. The more I drank, the better I got. Their chanting and cheering kept me going almost as much as the shots of liquor. By the second dance I was getting the hang of it, by the third I felt confident, and by the tenth, I was fuck eyed and having a blast. Dips, swings, and spins were thrown out with reckless abandon and nobody lost an eye.
The party was incredibly welcoming. A little hesitant at first, but as I got chatting with them, they opened up like a family. I wasn’t left alone for the whole afternoon. They all endlessly offered a new drink as mine ran down, brought me food, and chatted via proxy or with our broken English/Spanish mix. I was hailed as Leo the Wero by the end of the evening, a term that is one up from gringo. I’ll take it.
The evening went on, ending in karaoke as it so often does. I need to learn some tracks I can belt out because anything I would go for simply wouldn’t fit. They shamelessly give it all through beautiful mariachi heartbreakers and upbeat crowd pleasers. By about half-seven Danny was as drunk as anyone I’ve ever seen and Fabi’s poor kidneys must have just packed right up. We bundled into a taxi and made our way through the winding streets of Mexico City’s outskirts. We got home, they passed out, and I popped out for a round of tacos for them and me. I heard them bringing them back up in the bathroom about 4 hours later. One hour after that I had to get up and get moving.
A four-thirty start isn’t usually the nicest time to begin a day. With a blood alcohol content still higher than even the legal driving limit in Mexico, it’s terrible. Nevertheless, I dragged myself out of bed, through a shower, and to a location in Roma Norte somewhere. I was going to go climb a mountain and look at some butterflies.
I prayed the bus had a toilet. There was always a chance I could vomit or shit myself with a hangover of this variety. You never really know until about three hours after you have woken up I find. So far my hangover wasn’t too bad. I had no headache, and I wasn’t overly queezy, but my mouth was dryer than Riviera’s flip-flop. I think I was going to be okay. I managed to get a drinkable yoghurt down and get myself on the coach.
We were going as a group. Someone had found a discount code for a coach to and from Michoacán which is host to a nature reserve. This reserve, up a mountain, is the start of the migration of Monarch butterflies. They were in season and it would be mad not to go. The group was mostly people I hadn’t met, but there were a few familiar faces. Once I swallowed my hangxiety I realised the company was good and took the opportunity to catch a bit more sleep.
Then it started to go wrong. We were informed that we wouldn’t be making it to Michoacán today. The conservationist who takes care of the land that the single road to the reserve goes through was dead. He was murdered because he wouldn’t give the land up, so the police closed the road. That’s just Mexico i guess, We would have to go around another way to a slightly different reserve. Whatever just show me butterflies.
The second reserve was busy. Really busy. Our entrance was paid and we made our way up the mountain. Kettling was in operation which forced a single file between wooden fences that had a pony track to the left of it. Walking was limited to being as slow as the slowest member, which when the queue is 200 long is fucking slow even by Mexican standards. It was also dusty, like 3 inches of dusty. We took a step every two seconds and then had to tuck into our clothes as the dust clouds choked us out. Butterfly hunting was not off to a good start. There wasn’t even the option to overtake because there was a single line of people coming back down also.
The route did eventually open up, but the crowds didn’t thin. They got rid of the absolutely mind-blowing fence system and just had dirt tracks to decide on. Gradually, we made our way up, splitting and remeeting along the way, everyone just trying to find the least dusty route that didn’t have a thousand-year-old woman crawling along. Nobody had any luck. At this point we had all seen more creeping pensioners than butterflies and patience was wearing thin. I thought I was going to finally get some fresh air and instead I was just getting black lung from the farts I was ingesting from whoever was right in front of me and the endless storm of dust.
Eventually the butterflies appeared. Just one or two to start and then thousands. The sky was full of them and the trees were utterly covered. If you were quiet enough you could hear the endless wingbeats of the millions of insects flapping around. The swarm was a sight to behold, and the walk was all of a sudden worth it. I took an hour or so to take it all in. The top of the hill was actually a lot less busy than anywhere else.
These butterflies apparently migrate all the way up to Canada after setting off from Mexico. It seems wild that something so small and fragile can make it all that way up north through whatever weather comes at them.
Eventually, we made our way back to the bus and jumped on. Inevitably, we had a few people missing from the bus, nobody we knew. The tour guide took a vote at about two minutes past departure. Shall we leave without them or not, seemed like a funny joke. Either way, the last three made it and we made our way to the next destination.
We were heading to a small town on a lake, Valle Bravo, to end the day. That was never the plan but due to a dead conservationist and Espiritu Aventurero – the tour company, we had a little extra time on our hands. We set off as a group to find some food. It had to be seafood so we popped into a floating restaraunt and grabbed something to eat.
I had stuffed trout. It was fine, the dude belting out covers on an amplified guitar behind me was great. He had a request list longer than I have ever seen and honestly, wasn’t too bad. I don’t like Ed Sheeran even when Ed Sheeran sings it, so singing with a Mexican twang was never going to make me like it any less.
As we left, the waiter insisted we had underpaid. He was lying and quickly fessed up when we went to talk to him in front of a bunch of his colleagues. Then we went to pay for a boat tour of the lake. The little scrote who sold us the tickets insisted we had underpaid. We hadn’t. Ten minutes of arguing resulted in him pulling all the money he had been trying to get out of us from different pockets. Twice in ten minutes is a new record.
The ferry was beautiful, we caught the sunset over the mountains that ringed the lake and all danced to the tunes getting blasted over the deck. Drinks flowed and the cons from earlier were quickly put to the back of our minds. I had forgotten what trees and grass and open water looked like after being in the city for two months. It was nice to just lean out over the lake and bask in it for a little while. The calm before the storm I guess you could say. Our ferry, in typical Mexican fashion, came in late.
We docked at seven, and our tour was due to leave then but it was only five minutes away. Two people jumped to the dock early to make sure it didn’t leave without us, and the rest of us followed suit at a run shortly after. Sadly, that vote from earlier wasn’t a joke. At one minute past, the guide and rest of the bus had made the democratic decision and left without us. As I came round the corner they were pulling away. It was five minutes past seven.
At this point, the only option was to chase down the bus and try to keep it waiting for the rest of us, but they were having none of it. I paced up a monstrous hill that even the bus was struggling with and managed to catch up just as it rounded the corner. Three of us jumped aboard, and the one of us that could speak Spanish laid into the tour guide. We managed to keep the bus stopped for a couple more minutes before it shut the door and pulled away again. We had picked up one more person in that time and lost one more.
One of us had jumped off to let the others know where we were and what was going on. In doing so he had doomed himself to a long night. The bus pulled away, never to stop again. The guide verbally berated the one woman who had tried to keep the bus waiting over the tannoy. She her best to belittle and turn the rest of the passengers against her. She even threatened to kick her off the bus in the middle of god knows where. If the bears didn’t get her, the butterflies certainly would.
The rest of the group was left to get a taxi 140km home. They’re cheap here, but there is a limit. I’m glad I still have the cardio to run up a hill after very little sleep and walking up a mountain, but I felt awful for the ones we had left behind. If you ever come to Mexico City, avoid Espiritu Aventurero like the plague. They had one job; to get us to the promised destination and to get us home, but they achieved neither. 1/10.
Tomorrow I fly for the beach. Tacos have ensured my beach body is far from desirable, but I’m still gonna carry on eating them. Bye bye suadero, hello fish taco.